Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sisters Eat in Paris, Part A . . .

Okay, this has gone on long enough, this procrastination over telling you Where and What My Sister and I Ate in Paris. After all, we were there at the beginning of May; it's more than two weeks since I posted A Tale of (Eating in) Two Cities, Part I. and promised Part II, aka the Paris post. Perhaps I've been stalling because of the inevitable anticlimax; as you'll soon see, I'm not so much offering bonnes addresses (although there will be a few of those) but rather talking a bit more generally about Serendipity and Disappointment and Getting Too Hungry While Looking for a Place to Eat.

I definitely haven't been stalling for lack of anything to say. While I've taken weeks to click on Publish, I have been steadily adding -- and adding and adding -- to the post. Indeed, the word count a few days ago was over 2000 words! I suspect that's more than most of you will stick around for, so I'm subdividing Part II of the Two Cities post, into Part II (a) and Part II (b). I'm also re-titling, as you'll see above, because the Seattle post was so long ago that Two Cities doesn't make much sense anymore.

Our first evening in Paris, Serendipity sat us down at Les Temps des Cerises in the Marais.
I'll begin Part II (a) with How to Choose a Restaurant to Meet Friends At. Because that's a big responsibility, especially if one of the friends is visiting Paris for the first time. This was the case of a friend presenting a paper at an academic conference that coincided with mine and my sister's visit. I haven't seen this friend since a conference we both attended in Fredericton several years ago, and once we realized our visits would overlap, we agreed a meal together was top priority -- the friend she traveled with, whom I'd known at grad school, was happy to join us, as was my sister.

Wanting T  to see the Paris I love, but on a budget we could both feel comfortable with, I mentally scannned the restaurants I know well enough to anticipate a suitable menu, service, comfort, all within easy reach of the visitors' hotel not far from Le Jardin des Plantes. Given how many visits Paul and I have made over the years, I feel as if this should be easy, but while I can think of a few favourites, some of these have quirks or prices or menus that might not suit everyone. As well, restaurants change, and last year we only spent two evenings in Paris, one of them with friends at a sushi restaurant (I know!). Do I really want to recommend a place and then find it's gone seriously downhill?

Way back in 2008, I wrote a series of posts on restaurants we enjoy in Paris (if you're interested, you could begin here and work your way back). We still check in on some of these and enjoy them, but it's been seven years, and change happens. Happily, when we've visited Le Petit Vatel under new ownership, we've been happy both with the continuity and with the differences. We didn't get back to Le Martignac in 2014, but we'll check it out in the fall and see if it's still a fun place to grab a very satisfying lunch in the company of mostly French speakers who work in the 'hood (I wrote about it back in 2008 as well, and we've been there almost every year since).  I'll be crossing my fingers that it hasn't met the sad fate of. . . .

Christophe's, which I would have loved to visit with friends. . . . Those of us who grabbed every opportunity to eat here have always suspected it couldn't last, but year after year after year Pater and I enjoyed wonderful meals, served by the same solemn-faced waiter (I mentioned the restaurant here, back in 2008). This year, I optimistically climbed the hill to share our find with my sister only to read the sad news on the otherwise steadfast green facade. . . Paul and I wish Geneviève every success, and we may even stop by to test La Table in the fall, but meanwhile, I won't be suggesting that friends meet me at Christophe's. Sigh....




Same green, same geometry of window lights, same white lettering, but a different font spelling out a different name. Dommage! Vous me manquez, Christophe!

Back to my dilemma, then with another question informing my decision: Is my friend's friend vegetarian? I'm not sure, and I don't know vegetarian restaurants well enough to be sure I pick something good. In the end, I decide on something that both is, and is not, typically Parisian: a Moroccan restaurant, Au P'tit Cahoua, on Boulevard Saint-Marcel. Not "French food" as many think of it, but, in fact, never having been to Morocco, it was in Paris that we first discovered the wonders of tagines and couscous and pastillas and m'choui.

In fact, until two years ago, when our friends sold their hotel, we would get our tagine fix right across the street. I've recommended that restaurant,  Le Sirocco, numerous times, and always got favourable comments from friends who've tried it. It's right around the corner from Gobelins Metro station, but Rachel and I wanted to walk, and Au P`tit Cahoua, where Pater and I had eaten with friends a few years ago, was just enough closer to make it our choice.

And what a success it turned out to be! Charming, friendly, helpful service, with menus offered in both French and English and with patient accommodation of those of us who wished to try our tongues on some new French vocabulary. We ordered an assortment platter of starters, and then each chose a different tagine -- meat, fish, veggie-based. All delicious. The big hit of the evening, though, amusingly enough, was the sweet mint tea -- particularly the way our beautiful young server poured it through its long curved spout from what seemed a surprising distance away from the table. Not a drop was spilled and whether we enjoyed the entertainment or the aeration of the drink more is not clear. We happily accepted an offer of a second pouring, though. And then as we sat and talked and talked, yes, we had one more round before stepping out into the now dark evening to hug good-bye to my friends. For my sister and I, on only our second night in Paris, delights were already unrolling: as we turned onto Rue Soufflot after wandering `round the Pantheon, I was thrilled to be able to point out La Tour Eiffel twinkling her hourly show off in the distance.

By now, I suspect, you're noticing that the photos I'm showing here scarcely seem to match the evening I'm describing, and indeed, we ate indoors at Au P'tit Cahoua, in an invitingly decorated space evocative of Morocco, rich colours and textures enveloping us. We often ended up at sidewalk tables, though. Here, generally for lunch, Serendipity came into play. In my experience, such Serendipity is not dependable, often quite capricious. Rachel and I did very well, I'd say, although there is often a point when one walker is much hungrier than the other and some articulation and negotiation is happening about what menu each is hoping for. I was generally the hungrier one, and once or twice I felt the pressure of trying to find the right spot in time to fend off my crankiness. Crankiness can land one at a table with indifferent food served by a waiter deluged with the impatient rudeness of far too many tourists. I didn't want my sister to see that side of Paris.

And generally, Serendipity served us very well. In the photo at the top of the page, you see us smiling happily, in the Marais, at Les Temps des Cerises on Rue de la Cerisaie, where arriving without reservations netted us this comfortable seat outside, a very good meal, and a waiter who offered to take our photo. I will admit that I recognized the restaurant's name from reviews, but I also studied the menu you can see on the ardoise just to the left of the photo. In other words, I didn't just plop us down and take our chances. Food is far too important to leave completely to Serendipity, and there are only so many meals to enjoy in a week.

Paul and I will be staying not too far from Les Temps des Cerises this fall, and I'm hoping to share the find with him. . . and perhaps check out the charming interior. At our sidewalk table, Rachel was especially enthusiastic about her gazpacho and my tomato croustillant was delicious, the restaurant's rendition being a layer of tomato slices drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with basil, under a thick slice of mozarella, lightly crusted and grilled, under two beautifully rolled slices of prosciutto. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of the lemon tart we shared as dessert, but honestly? That baby didn't last long enough for photo-taking. . .

Other meals Rachel and I enjoyed at restaurants that threw themselves across our path  included
Au Bourgignon du Marais on rue Français Miron where the Beet Millefeuilles was both delicious and beautifully presented, the "thousand leaves" of the usual pastry being replaced by thinly sliced beets, with thin slices of goat cheese between them.


A very nice lunch at Le Galliera restaurant, directly opposite the Palais Galliera where we'd already devoured the fabulous Jeanne Lanvin exhibit. I had a succulent starter of white asparagus followed by a well-prepared fish filet.

We had a couple of indifferent meals as well, but even then, one is eating Salade Gourmande or boudin noir while drinking rosé at a sidewalk table in Paris? For me, part of the fun of visiting Paris is the walking and wandering and following one's nose and eyes. . . Sometimes, yes, the day's direction is set by following directions to a restaurant I've read about. I'll tell you about just such a day and the restaurant that had us following directions considerably longer than we'd expected.

I'll also tell you about restaurants Paul and I followed similar directions to many years ago, addresses that yielded such good results that we return year after year. I took my sister and my nephew to two of those, and one of them we even went to a second time.

But sometimes, as I've suggested above, rather than following directions, the visitor trusts to Chance. And I have one more Serendipitous find to tell you about, one that's not your typical tourist find, but that I'll definitely be trying to make time for when Pater and I are in Paris this fall.  All of these will have to wait for Part B, though. This has gone on long enough, no? For now, though, I'd love to know how you decide where to eat when you're visiting a new city. How much do you leave to chance? How much do you prefer to research? Any good stories about the pros and cons of either approach?
Or you could answer another question I'm curious about: how are you at recommending places for friends to eat at? Are you happy to draw on past experience or do you worry you'll steer fellow diners wrong? Have you ever been given a recommendation that turned out poorly? I'd love to hear. . . As always, of course, feel free to respond to anything that strikes you in the post . . .



21 comments:

  1. I'm bookmarking both Au P'tit Cahoua and Les Temps des Cerises for our next visit. We're also missing Christophe, both for the reliably excellent food as well as the spare and serene ambiance, which was great when we needed to decompress a bit. If you're in the 6th, we highly recommend Invictus, a small neighborhood place with an inventive and well-executed menu, excellent service and convivial ambiance.

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    1. Yes, we loved the calm there (and I had one of the best desserts of my life). I'll definitely bookmark Invictus, thanks.

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  2. Oh, and that picture of you and your sister is delightful!

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  3. I'm bookmarking this whole post - thank you so much for taking the time to write it all out. Very much appreciated. I don't know when we will next be in Paris, but we'll be well prepared!

    I didn't realize that Jennifer had sold the hotel, although I did wonder why you started staying in apartments (albeit that's a very good idea).

    I must admit we are a little gun shy about choosing restaurants, even here at home. Eating out can be so expensive and I hate to be disappointed. I certainly pay attention to personal recommendations, including from blogs. Looking forward to part 2!

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    1. Yes, if you're heading there again, check out the hotel's new incarnation, as Henriette's. . . J tells me there is now air-conditioning which will be much appreciated this week!
      As for the restaurant choice, it's tricky. I think that at the very top end, there's less likely to be disappointment, and at the lower end, it's easier to tolerate some, but that $200-300 range? Doesn't always guarantee a good evening and it's easy to think of other ways that money could be spent.

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  4. My mental database of restaurants is pretty large, and people often ask me for recommendations. Luckily, they're usually happy with my suggestions, but not knowing their friends or other variables does cause me a smidgen of angst.

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    1. And if I'm with the friends or acquaintances, sharing something that turns out not to be their thing, I can get defensive, and defensiveness can translate as resentment. . .

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  5. Looking forward for part B.!
    I find eating out is an important part of travelling,get,knowing better country and people ( I like to investigate in my hometown as well !),so I prepare myself reading about it. For a trip I always choose one of best restaurants for one dinner or lunch ( I like to cook,so this is kind of investment in myself :-)!) and than try to find others with local cuisine,popular with locals,sometimes it's a good choice and sometimes mistake It took some experience,don't you think?
    Any suggestions are wellcome , I like to talk with people about it. It is bad when you are disappointed in an expensive restaurant
    I agree,it is sometimes hard to recommend a restaurant,tastes can be different
    Dottoressa
    P. S.
    I tried to subscribe but something went wrong. Where do I have to go?

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    1. I like the idea of eating out as an investment in oneself. It's true that a good meal out can inspire many meals at home. I think our approaches are similar, and I agree with you that the disappointment is greater the more one has paid. And I absolutely agree that it's tough to recommend where tastes are different, as I mentioned to Miss Ripley, above.
      This is very ignorant of me as such a long-time blogger, but I know nothing about subscribing how-tos. This is something I want to figure out this summer, but meantime, all I can say is that I use Bloglovin for blogs I want to follow, and I know many readers follow me through Feedly as well. I'll see if I can get help on this, perhaps in a future post. . .

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  6. I find eating in Paris somewhat anxiety-producing. I always want THE BEST, because I go so infrequently. Your frequent visitor's approach is probably much better - some intent, and some serendipity. Thanks for the recommendations.

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    1. I get this. We've debated, occasionally, whether we want to spring for The Best at some point, and I guess I have some curiosity about what such a meal would be like, but so far, I can glean much enjoyment at much lower price points, and we simply couldn't afford to travel much if we spent that much on meals. Our approach to accommodation is very similar, and we're content to travel economy rather than business; it's the only way we're able to travel as often and for as long as we do. Trade-offs. . .

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    2. Oh, I should have been clearer, sorry. I don't mean THE BEST as in OF ALL, I just mean the best of type. And I never feel like I know enough to know if I'm making good use of my eating moments.

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    3. Gotcha! So much depends on what we're looking for in the experience of eating out, doesn't it? Sometimes it's completely sensory, but even that gets broken down to the food, the ambience (for me sound is also a part of it). . . Sometimes the social component is huge. Sometimes I want food I could never recreate at home, sometimes I like to try stuff I might then be able to replicate. I have a friend who will never order something she could make herself -- and she's very accomplished in her kitchen -- nor will she order something she's had in that restaurant before. I, on the other hand, am not too embarrassed about ordering Pad Thai pretty regularly despite many other offerings available. Food (ha!) for many, many posts and extended conversations. Or for a long in-person chat over dinner in San Francisco or Vancouver, right? Someday?

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    4. Yes. Some day. Absolutely.

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  7. I'm hesitant to recommend restaurants but always happy to listen to others' recommendations. Your "tomate croustillant" sounds really yummy and has me envisioning making it here at home.
    I'll be back to this post for our next trip to Paris, whenever that may occur.

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    1. Many of the restaurants we go back to often are really geared for locals and mostly full of French speakers who know the restaurant protocol. Perhaps goofily, we take some small pride in having breached these cultural walls, but I'm not especially keen to try them out with friends who would require my staying mostly in English. Then we become an audible bubble, separate from the rest of the room, a completely different experience. As a French and Spanish speaker, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. I've never made a croustillant, and maybe it's time. Maybe I'll wait for you to sort it out and post. . . ;-)

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  8. We enjoyed dinner last week at Cafe Sud, rue de Castellane. The food was nice, although not exceptional, but what was really, really good was the owners jazz band. Not sure if they play every night, but we were there on a Friday and they were playing again with a slightly different line up when we wandered past on Saturday evening. Lunch at Printemps Brasserie up on the 6th floor of the main store is always nice. It's a wonderful space under the glass cupola. The food is generally good and people watching is fun, mostly locals with a scattering of tourists. One day I hope to score a table in one of the alcoves where you also get a view of Paris roofs.
    I thought Paris food prices were were higher this year and it was harder to find good meals at the lower to mid range than 2 years ago.
    I recommended a place we used to frequent at home to a work colleague, where both food and ambience were always superb. He went and had a disastrous evening. We learnt later that the chef and his wife, who was maitre'd, had split acrimoniously that day. Oops, the colleague never quite forgave me!
    Lilibet

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    1. Thanks for this, Lilibet! I'll make a note, as we would love some jazz with our dinner -- we used to enjoy the Old Navy on Blvd. St. Germain, not so much for the food, which was okay but not special, but for a really casual neighbourhood ambience and some jazz.
      I find the same thing about finding good meals at the lower to mid range. As for your anecdote about recommending a place, this is a perfect illustration of what can go wrong (your colleague should have given it a second chance, perhaps?)

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  9. Eating out is always one of the joys of travel. Since I was diagnosed with a chronic intestinal disease that limits my diet to plain meat, veg and fruit (no grains, dairy, beans, sugar, etc.) I've noticed that travel seems less fun. Choosing restaurants is more difficult. With this post I realize I need to find a way around the loss of being able to choose restaurants on a whim and regain the lost joy. Thanks for reminding me that there is always a way to have fun while traveling.
    Lynn

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    1. I would find that restriction so difficult, Lynn. At home, of course, you can still find foods to enjoy, and even nearby restaurants that can accommodate, but while travelling, that must become very tough. I do notice, in Paris at least, that there are increasing numbers of vegetarian, even vegan restaurants, or at least restaurants that will cater to, or accommodate vegetarian/vegan diets. I haven't tried any yet, but I do read about them on various sites, in passing. Do you ever try staying in an apartment rather than a hotel when traveling? Then, at least, you could find joy in local marketing and make meals that pleased you, from local produce. . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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